As a self-employed consultant, I find my clients often want to value my time on a strict hourly rate. Yet one of the services I have provided is teaching consulting clients how to value their own time, and that they should value their work (and therefore my work) on the outcomes delivered. If something takes half an hour to do, but was only possible because of years of expertise or contacts, and is valuable to the client, then it is probably worth more than 30 minutes of your time. The value of the service is greater than that of your time. Charging by time, consistently, teaches clients that our time is not valuable, that it is a commodity, and that our time is worth the same as any competitor’s time. It encourages them to drive down rates, rather than focus on outcomes. That is the formal, business side of valuing time.
But how do we value our time in personal terms, in chores, leisure, or relationships? Do we put a dollar amount on it? Or do we value it differently?
Taking time to do something ourselves, without putting a dollar amount on our time, may be much more satisfying. Cooking a Thai meal from scratch or baking a cake for a dinner party may be more costly (if we consider both cost of ingredients and our time) than picking up a cake from a bakery, or a Thai takeaway, but perhaps that’s the point. Putting love and care into something is satisfying, and more meaningful. Compliments from dinner guests will be accepted and leave a warm, happy glow – both because we know we’ve done well, and because we know we’ve been able to make our friends happy too. And there’s something therapeutic about baking, seeing the chemical reactions of the various procedures required in a recipe, and there’s something therapeutic about chopping onions, and stir-frying a meal, smelling the changes as the curry paste or meat heats and fries. Often a task doubles as a pleasant leisure activity after all.
Other factors are involved too. Maybe we want to do something ourselves because we want it done right (translation: our way), and tend to believe that hired help won’t meet our exacting standards. Maybe we want to do something ourselves because we believe it is extravagant and lazy not to do it ourselves, and would feel guilty for valuing our time that highly. Or because we take pride in knowing (and perhaps telling others) that we have the skills, the ability, the time, and/or the discipline to do it ourselves. My father-in-law would consider it wrong to value an hour writing on the computer over an hour cleaning the house. (That’s why he doesn’t have the URL for this blog!)
Maybe too we want to do something ourselves because we are embarrassed to have others do it (tidy our messy houses, waxing, etc). Or perhaps we want to use our creativity to do something ourselves, rather than hire an expert or buy something instead. I spend hours putting together my photobooks. I do it myself because I want to – because I enjoy the creativity it requires, and because the choices of photographs, and which ones take prominence, are very personal. If I tried to convey my detailed requirements, I’d use as much time (almost) as when I put them together myself! But in strictly monetary terms, putting together my photobooks definitely isn’t cost-effective, if the time I take could be used in other, more productive ways. Likewise, I like making cards with my own photographs. It would be much more cost-effective to buy a card at the local store – the photos would be better for a start! But I’d enjoy it less, and I wouldn’t be putting my heart into it either.
Or do we take our time for granted? By not giving it a value, do we end up resenting our lost time? Again, I think it depends on the activity. Gardening to many is therapeutic, whereas only the act of being in a garden (preferably sitting with a book or glass of wine or good friends) is therapeutic to me. Cooking, sewing, writing, planning a trip or a family get-together – all tasks my husband would hate to do, and all tasks I would prefer over gardening. Waiting in line to make a purchase is only worthwhile if we add the cost (both financial and personal) of waiting to the overall cost of the item we might be purchasing. Waiting in line would make me very resentful, and would – I think – outweigh the pleasure of finally getting what I had come for.
There is even a tool that will help you value your time. An article written about this tool quoted the developer as saying that we make inconsistent decisions. He seems to have a problem with this. But inconsistency is only present if you don’t take into account the importance of our emotions and other variables in the decisions we take, and the outcomes we seek. When we do, there is a consistency across our decisions. I might complain about parking charges, because they seem high compared to what we get for them, they make me resentful and guilty. So if I can save $8 on an hour or two of parking by avoiding particular parts of town, or by parking then walking further, then I know I can have a couple of cups of coffee instead. The pleasure of the coffee far outweighs the time spent walking or driving to shop elsewhere. Balance, that’s what it is all about.
So I don’t think I am taking my time for granted. I think I take conscious decisions when to use it. Ultimately I don’t think we can place a dollar amount on our leisure time, because value means more than just money. Value is all about the total value of the outcome we want. The $4 coffee does not represent just the cost of coffee beans, water, milk, and the time it took the barista to make it, but for me, it is also the place to drink it, the skill of the barista and the quality of the coffee; it is 15 minutes of relaxation with a cup in my hand, the peace and time to finally read some of my latest book, maybe a few notes on a potential blogpost, and a more energised Mali for the next few hours. That’s the total value of a $4 coffee for me. It far exceeds the value of a one hour $4 car park! So it seems very mercenary to value our personal emotions, commitments, and pleasures by the dollar. Life is bigger and much more complex than that.